Academic Rigor vs. More Varied Experience

<p>In another thread, RockvilleMom directly discussed an issue that I have been debating within myself. I asked RVM for permission to quote her in a new thread and she graciously consented.</p>

<p>Here are the particulars:</p>

The workload at (son 1's school) is immense and leaves less time for other pursuits. My son has done well academically, but has not been able to study abroad and other than some recreational sports, he has not been very involved in clubs. </p>

<p>(Son 2) has already had a more varied experience - becoming involved in several clubs, religious groups and rec. sports. He wanted a college experience that embraced learning beyond the classroom, and has found that.</p>

<p>Academic rigor by itself is not the only criteria to judge a college or a college experience.


<p>My D’s grades (so far) seem to put her in that vast middle area where she might be in the lower quarter of a reach school or in the top ten percent of less selective schools.</p>

<p>My ‘ex’ and I are at potentially different ends of the spectrum on this. She (my ex) believes that the very main (if not only) purpose of going to college is to attend class, learn, study hard and get great grades. I do see a value in that pursuit but, at the same time, I believe there should be much more to the college experience. However, as my ex says, we are going to be paying a LOT of money for our D’s college. Investing it on direct future career-related expenses for our D makes better sense than spending it (partially) on clubs and sports.</p>

<p>I don’t expect anyone here to settle an argument with my ex-wife. But this seems like a very fundamental issue that many families face and I think the group as a whole would benefit on how others look at this and may provide some insights.</p>

<p>Having had 3 children in college and been an academic advisor for the past 30 years at a very rigorous school, [Illinois</a> Institute of Technology](<a href=“”>, my ideas on this have evolved significantly.</p>

<p>Studying hard and doing your best at whichever university you attend is essential. Your undergraduate degree is substantially what you put into it. This means that for most majors, it is important to go to a school where your academic abilities are well matched to the rigor of the courses you are taking. You will learn more that way.</p>

<p>However, staying in your dorm room and just studying is not making best use of your college experience. This is also a time to expand your horizons and make contacts that will last a lifetime. More importantly, many of the outside-the-classroom things you do will be directly relevant to your career after college, even if you intend to go on to graduate school.</p>

<p>Every school has easy majors. The avg ACT for Northwestern is around 31/32. Yet NU admits many athletes each year the 24/25 range. These athletes graduate nearly 100% of the time and with good GPAs and have time for their sport. But if you look, you will see many of them in the same 3-4 majors.</p>

<p>One option then is any ‘easy’ major at a demanding school.</p>

<p>However, schools with rigorous core curricula like MIT have less room for academically marginal students (athletes or otherwise), even if they seek out “easy” majors.</p>

<p>Also, the “easy” and “hard” majors are not necessarily the same at all schools.</p>

<p>To some extent, it depends on your daughter’s personality and her goals.</p>

<p>Some kids get very stressed out and are quite miserable if they feel like they are always struggling just to be average. They would thrive if they were a big (or bigger) fish in a somewhat less competitive pond. The attention from faculty is especially important to them - which they aren’t going to get if they are floating around the middle of the class. And for some professional goals, like medical school, you definitely want to be in a college where you are confident that you’ll be at the top of your class with enough time left over for research, medical-related volunteering, etc… </p>

<p>Others, who are academically highly able, good advocates for themselves, self-confident and relish a challenge, will want to be in a school with others like themselves- even if it means not being at the top of the class. The competition spurs them to greater heights and the intellectual substance feeds them - even if they are working very long hours and it comes at the expense of their personal lives.</p>

<p>You and your ex-wife may not agree on the purpose of a college education - but perhaps you can share a common vision of what kind of environment brings out the best in your daughter. Is it one where she is constantly challenged and striving, or one where she is comfortable?</p>

<p>I definitely want a more rounded experience for my D. I’m hoping she will land at a college that pushes her intellectually, but doesn’t have her chained to her desk. College is a time of huge personal growth and I want her to have the opportunity to explore many new activities/ideas.</p>

<p>GolfFather -</p>

<p>What does your daughter want? Since you and your wife aren’t in agreement on this issue, can you let your daughter take the lead? True, she may be utterly clueless, but she may also have some clear ideas about what she wants. And, frankly, if she is clueless, some kind of gap year to let her grow up a bit more and get a stronger sense of direction would not be a bad idea at all.</p>



<p>Thanks, I think that is a very solid approach.
And we have gone over this as it relates to school size, location and sports.
But, you’re right, “academic rigor” is another area where this could apply.</p>



<p>Yup, also along the same lines.</p>



<p>Nope, I wouldn’t say my D is clueless at all. She seems to be pretty focused and knowledgeable about her goals and aspirations.</p>


<p>IMHO not all of what you learn in college shows up on the transcript. A semester abroad, for example, is a rewarding experience in itself but along the way you nay also learn how to get by in an unfamiliar setting where you may not understand everything that is being said, with rules that may differ from those in your home culture. Clubs and the like can be fun, but they are also opportunities to practice skills in persuasion and sociability, traits that will be important for success later in life. </p>

<p>In the end I think a lot boils down to the student. Someone can take part in clubs, study abroad, etc. without any personal growth. But for the student that makes the most of the opportunities, I think there can be much more to college than simply a list of classes taken and grades received.</p>

<p>Good advice here. I would only add that you can find both not only within the same school, but within the same student’s experience. At many schools, especially larger ones, students in most majors have a lot of freedom to decide how intense a given semester will be. I had lots of friends who chose to spend some years of college primarily focusing on life experience/activities and some years chained to their desks. I’ve seen a lot of campus leaders who drew back from their commitments senior year to focus on their thesis or complete a master’s degree. I’ve also seen some students who dialed back their academic stress as juniors/seniors because they became president of the student newspaper or had a heavy performance schedule singing with the Whiffenpoofs at Yale.</p>

<p>This doesn’t work so well if you’re in engineering or nursing, but virtually any liberal arts major at a medium-to-large university can be tweaked this way.</p>



<p>I don’t wish to make this all about me and my daughter but in the interest of full disclosure … my D has lived almost half her life overseas, speaks two foreign languages and she has done international travel by herself and in various small groups without either parent. She has also done volunteer medical-related work in African villages and orphanages.</p>

<p>She is, if nothing else, extremely comfortable in “unfamiliar settings.” </p>

<p>We got that covered. ;)</p>